Perhaps the single greatest piece of poetic literature ever written is the “The Wasteland” by T.S.Eliot, composed in the early part of the of the 20th century. The opening lines that run as follows: “April is the cruelest month; Breeding lilacs out of the deadland,” were meant to convey the idea that a false sense of hope exists that believes that mankind or society or the very essence of the human condition was somehow redeemable. When, according to T.S. Eliot, it clearly was not. It’s a difficult poem to comprehend because it uses vast amounts of symbolism, especially in the passages relating to the quest for the holy grail. But, it’s worth a read anyhow, if nothing else, because of the rich poetic phraseology such as : “Those are pearls that were his eyes,” when describing the drowned Phoenician sailor. In any event, it got me wondering what Eliot’s thoughts would be regarding the human condition if he had visited current day Las Vegas. I guess he would have to call his poem-“The Wasteland Squared.”
Probably, the local media, wherever you may live, carried the story on the latest mayhem that occurred on the Las Vegas Strip, early Thursday morning. A 27-year old aspiring rapper, who somehow was able to afford a Maserati, was cruising along the Strip when he was shot and killed by an unknown assailant driving a much cheaper Range Rover. The Maserati then crashed into a taxi, killing the cab driver and his passenger. Three people dead in the blink of an eye, and not a clue as to who the shooter was. Now, there’s a multi-state manhunt for driver of the Range Rover who, apparently, made a clean getaway. Good luck with that. All this turmoil occurred at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road. While I haven’t traveled all over the world, I’ve been to major portions of Europe, the Pacific, and even Latin America; but I have never seen a worse traffic intersection (on a good day) than Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road. So I can only imagine what kind of traffic hell must have ensued yesterday, after this incident. Police theorize that an argument developed between the shooter and the victim at a major Strip hotel, in the early morning hours on Thursday, which led to the ensuing deadly carnage. The taxi driver and tourist were just collateral damage. Come visit Las Vegas folks, for the time of your life, or death, as the case may be.
Still tourists keep pouring into Las Vegas, non-stop. Las Vegas (and the rest of Nevada) reported record profits in the past year from hotel/casino operations. Some people do come here on the cheap, staying at low cost motels, and wisely not venturing into the casinos or going to expensive shows. But then, why come at all? I used to see this when I was able to finagle annual business trips to Hawaii. (Freeloading has always been one of my best talents.) People would visit Hawaii, on the cheap; I assume, just so they could say they’ve been there. They would stay at Holiday Inn type motels and eat in fast food joints, or restaurants that featured cheapie type Asian fare. Most people coming to Las Vegas these days, however, do stay in the overpriced mega-resorts on the Strip, and apparently, have little compunction about gambling away their life savings in the casinos. Or spending out-landish sums on show tickets at these hotels. Meanwhile, in the surrounding areas that are just off the Strip, there is widespread decay. Abandoned shopping centers or apartment complexes proliferate due to the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Panhandlers exist at virtually every major intersection, and foreclosed houses are everywhere. A lot of people situated here are hurting badly, but are oblivious to the tourists staying at Strip resorts.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughters paid us a visit; so we bought tickets to one of the lesser-priced shows on the Strip. Which is something we otherwise rarely do. In any event, it was a rock music show that explicitly promised an evening of debauchery and depravity. As it turned out, it was hardly either. I would rate it more along a PG-13 type of entertainment. That’s Las Vegas; lots of glitter and glitz and promise, but short on substance. Don’t get me wrong, however, there is a lot of high quality entertainment to be seen on the Strip. The problem is that it costs anywhere from $250-$1000 and up per ticket to see these shows. The $250 seat is in the nosebleed section. They basically exist to entertain people whose motto is-money is no object.
Amid the blaring headlines in the local newspaper about 3 dead on the Strip, was a smaller article about how Lake Mead (from whence Las Vegas gets its water) is expected to drop another 13 feet this year. The lake level will soon be low enough to where people can wade in and build mud castles. It seems that the snowfall in the Sierra mountains has been especially disappointing this winter. Lake Mead gets almost all its water from the snow runoff in the spring from the Sierras. I’ve written before about how Las Vegas is caught up in a vicious and prolonged drought with no end in sight. With each passing year the water situation here gets evermore critical. If something isn’t done about the ferocious grip the drought has on the Valley, and, indeed, the entire Southwest, some drastic consequences will likely ensue. Like tourists, spending $500-$800 a night at a Strip mega-resort, going into the shower one morning, turning on the facets, and then staring in disbelief as nothing comes out. A kind of poetic justice, as T.S. Eliot might have put it.
Too bad that T.S. Eliot is not alive in this day and age, to experience the devolvement and degeneration of the human condition, as it exists in modern day Las Vegas.